Solutions for Teaching in an Overcrowded Classroom

overcrowded classroom
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One of the biggest issues facing schools and teachers today is overcrowding. A combination of an increasing population and a decrease in funding has caused class sizes to soar. In an ideal world, class sizes would be capped at 15-20 students. Unfortunately, many classrooms now regularly exceed thirty students, and it is not uncommon for there to be more than forty students in a single class. Classroom overcrowding has sadly become the new normal.

It is not likely going to go away anytime soon, so schools and teachers must create workable solutions to make the best out of a bad situation.

Problems Created by Overcrowded Classrooms

Teaching in an overcrowded classroom can be frustrating, overwhelming, and stressful. An overcrowded classroom presents challenges that are nearly impossible to overcome. There is a trickle-down effect that has a tremendous negative impact on the quality of education that even the most effective teachers can provide their students. The only benefit of increasing class sizes is that it saves the district money. It is a sacrifice many schools have to make in order to keep their doors open in an era where schools are underfunded.

  • There is not enough of the teacher to go around. Students perform better when the teacher is able to give one on one or small group instruction on a regular basis. As classroom size increases, this becomes increasingly difficult to do. In a standard sixty minute class in which the teacher provides whole group instruction for twenty minutes leaving forty minutes for individual instruction, a class size of fifteen could receive an average of just over 2 ½ minutes of one on one instruction. Increasing that size to twenty students would cut that time to 2 minutes. Increasing that size to thirty students would cut it to less than 1 ½ minutes. Increasing it to forty students would cut it to exactly one minute per student.

  • Overcrowding increases classroom discipline issues. More students provide more opportunities for personality conflicts, tension, and general disruptive behavior. Even the best teachers find it difficult to manage an overcrowded classroom successfully. Teachers often find themselves spending more time managing their classroom than they do teaching.

  •  Struggling students fall further behind. The brightest minds in each class will likely be able to get what they need no matter how many students are in the class. It is average and below average students that will struggle to learn and advance in an overcrowded classroom. These students need more direct instruction, one-on-one instructional time, and minimal distractions to maximize their learning potential.

  • Standardized test scores suffer. For better or worse, schools across the country are deemed effective or ineffective based on their standardized test scores. Many teachers would argue that there is an overemphasis placed on test scores especially in America’s public schools. The chance of successfully proving proficiency on a standardized test decreases as the number of students in the classroom increases.

  • The overall noise level is increased. This is an expected result when you increase the number of students in the classroom. Louder classrooms translate to distractions making it more difficult for students to learn and for teachers to teach.

  • Teacher stress is increased often leading to teacher burnout. More students translate to more stress. Teachers already have a difficult job with lots of pressure. Many excellent teachers are opting to leave the profession because it is not worth the stresses they deal with on a daily basis.

  • Overcrowding leads to less access to equipment and technology. Space is already at a premium for many schools and there often is not enough room to accommodate specialties such as science or a computer lab. A science teacher would find it hard to conduct experiments safely with forty students in a laboratory meant for twenty. Computer labs are often maxed out with twenty-five computers making it difficult to use for classroom who have more students than the number of computers available.

  • Lack of personal connections. Most of us have certain teachers who always stand out in our minds as having made a difference in us. Now imagine if you had been in that class with thirty-nine other students. Do you think they would have been able to have made the same impact on you? Of course not! Their attention would have been divided much more. You likely would not have gotten to know each other as well, and the time they were able to invest you individually would have decreased.

    District Level Solutions to Overcrowded Classrooms

    • Make it a last resort. Increasing class sizes should be a last resort for any school district. It should never be a starting point. There are many other ways to trim a budget. If all other options are exhausted, then schools may be forced to RIF (Reduction in Force) teachers and increase class sizes. However, they should immediately be looking for solutions to reduce class sizes back to twenty or fewer students.

    • Take advantage of ability grouping. Schools should use benchmark assessments to determine student placement. Class sizes should be kept relatively small for those who perform unsatisfactorily. Students who are strong academically have less to lose in an overcrowded classroom.

    • Provide teachers with an aide. Providing a teacher with an aide can help decrease the burden on the teacher. Aides receive a lower salary, so by placing them in overcrowded classrooms, you improve the student/teacher ratios and reduce cost.

    • Lobby for more funding. Schools administrators and teachers should regularly lobby their state and local representatives for more funding. They should keep them apprised of issues overcrowding is causing. Administrators can also invite them to spend time at their school so that they can see the impact that overcrowding has.

    • Solicit local donations. Private schools are able to keep their doors open due to tuition and to a large extent by soliciting donations. In tough financial times, public school administrators should not be afraid to solicit donations either. Every dollar counts and even garnering enough donations to hire an extra teacher or two each year can make a significant difference.

    • Apply for grants. There are thousands of grant opportunities made available to schools each year. Grants exist for almost everything including technology, supplies, professional development, and even teachers themselves.

    Teacher Solutions to Overcrowded Classrooms

    • Plan exceptionally well. Teachers in an overcrowded classroom must be exceptionally organized. They have to be well prepared for every day. They must develop a fluid system through trial and error to maximize the time they have with their students.

    • Create energetic and engaging lessons. Every lesson must be enticing, energetic, and fun. It is easy for students in any class to be distracted and lose interest, but this is especially true in a large classroom. Lessons must be fast paced, unique, and full of attention grabbers.

    • Tutor struggling students that need more of your time after school. There simply is not enough time to provide struggling students with the one-on-one time that they need. Tutoring these students 2-3 times after school each week gives them a better shot at being successful.

    • Assign seats and rotate when necessary. With a large class, you must be structured, and this starts with strategically placed assigned seats. Students who are low academically and/or are behavior issues should be assigned seats towards the front. Students who are high academically and/or are well behaved should be provided seats towards the back.

    • Understand that the dynamics will be different. It is essential that you understand that there are significant differences in a classroom of twenty students compared to a classroom of thirty. You have no control over how many students are in your class, so you cannot allow yourself to be stressed out due to things that are out of control. Understand that you are not going to be able to spend time with each student that you would like. Understand that you will not get to know each student on a personal level. Understand that it is going to be noisy at times. Understand these things and adapt to the situation or you will become frustrated and want to quit.

    • Provide a lot of structure. Structure is a critical component in any classroom but especially so in a classroom with lots of students. Establish your rules and expectations on day one. Be hard-nosed and hold each student accountable. Do not let them get away with anything, especially at the beginning.